Calls for more scrutiny over Gateshead FC play-off rejection

Gateshead International Stadium., the home of the Heed.
-Credit: (Image: ChronicleLive)

Liberal Democrat councillors have called for greater scrutiny over council bosses' role in the saga that saw Gateshead FC barred from the National League play-offs.

The Heed were denied a shot at promotion to the English Football League (EFL) at the close of last season, amid uncertainty over the future of their home ground at Gateshead International Stadium.

Opposition councillors in the town called on Monday for a new report to be compiled detailing correspondence between the Labour-run local authority the National League, the EFL, and the club.

Coun Ron Beadle, Gateshead's Lib Dem leader, told an overview and scrutiny committee meeting that he wanted to see a report by October this year to understand whether there were any opportunities for a “better outcome” for Gateshead FC.

It comes after Labour councillors voted down a proposal last month to make a 10-year tenancy for the Heed a contractual obligation for any future operator, something council leader Martin Gannon branded "ridiculous" and claimed would risk legal action.

Coun Beadle said: “The leader [Coun Gannon] when we debated this at the last full council said there was correspondence that any individual member could look at. We think there deserves to be a more formal overview than just individual members having a look and this would provide the opportunity.

“At the very least, we should be having a look at the correspondence to see the timeline and if there was any opportunity to get a better outcome.”

Heed supporters were left shocked in April when it emerged that their side would not be allowed to compete in the play-offs, as a result of the uncertainty surrounding the stadium.

The club could not meet an EFL requirement for aspiring members to have a 10-year lease on their home ground, with the council currently in the process of seeking an external operator for the venue as part of cost-cutting measures at the civic centre.

Council bosses say that the stadium is currently running at a deficit of more than £800,000 a year, which Coun Gannon said in May was an “unsustainable” number for a local authority facing a £50 million deficit over the next five years.

But he expressed hope that a charity, or other organisation that would be exempt from paying the venue’s hefty business rates, can be found to run it and that they would want to keep the Heed in situ.

Coun Gannon said at May's council meeting: “We are confident that will happen. I have taken views from officers and I am told that there are positive discussions, that we have partners who are interested and will secure the future of the football club.

“I have to be absolutely blunt and honest with members of the council, as with supporters of the football club, as we have been with the football club. What would we do in the, hopefully unlikely, event that we don’t secure an operator?

“Think about it – are you going to urge us to sign a binding 10-year lease with the football club now? And if we don’t secure an operator are you so confident in the finances of this council that you are prepared to sign to an £8.6 million deficit over the next 10 years?”